Receive every post in your inbox.

Creating a path to somewhere else.

A sense of place …

Establishing a sense of place in writing is surely incredibly important. You want, ideally, to ground yourself and your readers in the world you have created. You want to establish a concrete reality and build onto it from there.

I suck at it.

I am aware of this problem in my writing. Trust me. I’ve gotten enough criticism over it in my life. So here’s to doing something about it.

Why do I suck at setting?

I am going to blame living internationally for this. Only a little. But hear me out. I was born in England and moved to Wales as a kid. Then, I went to the opposite end of the UK for university. Then, I graduated and moved halfway around the world to Tokyo. Living here, I have rather an international group of people who I see on a daily basis. My significant other is Australian. So my sense of language has become very scattered. I use American idioms and British slang in the same sentence. I refer to a cuddle as a cwtch and have since I first learned the word in Welsh class. I have completely replaced the word for ‘power outlet’ in my head with the Japanese word コンセント or consento.

So my writing is a little jumbled. When I choose words I often forget whether or not they would sound natural coming from the mouth of anyone but me.

Another reason that I might be lacking in the setting department is that I am impatient. As a writer and as a reader. I read at speeds that startle many, because I have always wanted to consume quickly to get that burst of dopamine. When I write, I tend to want to get right into the heart of the issue or the conflict or whatever it might be.

I need to wait. To linger. To stop and smell the roses.


But what exactly should I be doing? Well, I decided to do some research. I am by no means an expert, but I will share what I’ve learned.

Lets learn together

So, the first thing I want to get into is my pre-conception of setting. I think when I write I tend not to focus on setting overly much. To me and in my writing it becomes a kind of TV set. Pretty to look at, but mostly something that fades into the background. I forget to linger on it because to me it just is. But, when you really try to get back there and see what’s going on, you find that it’s very one dimensional.

The scenery falls over.

So I want to move away from that.

Abandon Set!

  • Place

Where is your story? Not simply saying ‘the U.K.’ or ‘Tokyo’ but being as specific as possible is preferable. Being specific and thorough is helpful. If it’s a place you’ve never experienced firsthand, this is where research comes in. The internet obviously has a wealth of information. But what should you be looking for?

Write what you know but with a twist.

There are always going to be places that we as humans are far more familiar with that others. The town you grew up in. The city you went to university in. What is it about those places that you remember even now, what sights, sounds, smells and idiosyncrasies did they have? If you have a moment, write about one such place that – just be closing your eyes – you can visit. Include as much detail as you can. Make it real.

Now think about your setting. How can you apply those memories to your setting? Rewrite your description, following the beats of your original but adding the information about this new place. Make it vivid.

  • Even Smaller Places

Even within a place, you need to find the nooks and crannies to explore. This might be your protagonist’s house, their work, the park where they go to decompress. Wherever these places are, this is where you can get up close and intimate with your setting. Your protagonist’s house is more than just four walls. It should serve as a mirror of them and their flaws and quirks. Or it could be a vehicle of plot. But it should be alive.

Try it out yourself. Look around your living space and do a little psychoanalysis. What can you see? Do the dirty dishes tell you about your own busy schedule? Does the made bed surrounded by dirty clothes give you an insight into a person trying hard to get themselves together but still struggling to get past that first step of productivity? It should. And so should the setting that you share with your protagonist.

  • Time

Time is a big one. Writing in the present day can seem all too easy at first, but I find that all of my writing lacks an anchor point to the current time. So I need to anchor myself down.

This can be achieved through grounding in current events, societal mores, technological advancements etc. If you aren’t writing contemporary fiction, obviously you have much more research ahead of you. Newspapers, magazines, journals from your preferred time period hold treasure troves for your writing. I always tend to get stuck here for a while, so remember to set yourself a goal before you begin to research.

  • Focus

More than anything, establishing setting seems to come down to focus. Focusing on the important parts of the world you are building around your character should allow them to thrive in a world that feels just as alive as they do. When writing setting, you must always remember to stop and smell the roses. Or risk forgetting that they’re there at all.

Photo by Nikita Tikhomirov on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: